Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest

Table of Contents

Sibling rivalry



I am a parent of two boys born two years apart.

I intervened 75,046 times when they were little.

Hopefully, “savagery” might be too strong a word, at least most of the time. But let's be ready for anything, right?

My sons just had a falling out in their 40s and are still not speaking!

So, who am I to give advice?

I won’t.

But I have read some great information that I wish I had known as a young parent. Perhaps my sons would still be talking.

So, I will share with you what I wish I HAD known because it is very smart advice indeed. Some of these things I did as a single parent, but many I did not and confess it all.

Do siblings HAVE TO fight?

I am going to say YES and be right more often than wrong. Why can I say this? Because it seems human nature.

And here is the good news:


Then the bad news.

What they learn is not always good.

What makes the difference?

You do!


Sibling rivalry

First, realize there are rules you teach children that help in their lives, most all of it starts at home…and in this case, fighting.


What are the rules?

  1. Respect is the highest virtue in humankind. So, we should always bring that up. This is a human quality as far as we know. I do not know how to tell if the birds in my back-yard respect one another, or if my dog truly respects me, but I do know I respect my sons and my wife and they respect me. You teach respect by being respectful yourself, first of all.

An example: You do it right there while breaking up the fight by listening to each child. If they are not old enough to learn by listening you must show it in your “loving firmness” which says, You are precious, and you did not ask to be here, and I respect your feelings and know you WANT something. But THIS is not how you get it. But you are not going to get it this way. And remove it, if it is an object.

  1. You can have your feelings, all of them, but you cannot lash out at others, so you must learn how to deal with your feelings in a good way. How do you teach this? Talk about feelings. Help them identify them: Are you angry, afraid, sad, hurt? Explain that feelings are also called emotions and they are not permanent. Sometimes they feel awful, but they pass. So, let’s go over here and cool off. Older kids, tell them to take a walk. “Go to your room” can be said lovingly, and with knowledge, it is a perfect solution, but put a time limit on it. Separating to opposite sides of the room is another idea.

Of course, one idea is to model what it is like to handle your emotions rather than letting them handle you. Striking out in anger. Yelling and screaming. Name-calling. That’s the three that show you are NOT a good role model. So, YOU cool off if you need to…then take action.

  1. No hitting. This is a steadfast, non-negotiable rule. A parent is there to protect, and letting physical harm come to children is a violation of parenthood. Perhaps criminal even. How to stop it: A) Never let it happen, i.e., intervene early. The best intervention is often prevention. Know the signs and when to step in early. Okay, but what if it has already happened? Someone has hit someone. Now what? Say, patiently and respectfully, “We do not hit in this family. We use our words. So, tell us what is going on?”
  2. Bullying is threatening violence. This was an issue with my boys. The first was not only older but substantially bigger. Today he is 6’5” while his brother is 5’9”. The older one lorded it over the younger one. He bullied, threatened, and bribed him perpetually. When they got along the most was when they played together. They loved Lego Blocks. I found spaceships on tops of drapes prepared to swoop in, perched on the mantle ready to attack, and under my feet in the dark on the way to the bathroom. OUCH! For years, playing together was their peaceable, creative, fun time…until girls showed up! Suddenly one was too old for such childish things as fun with brother.

How did I handle it? As long as it did not get physical, or fear-inducing, I let them work it out. I feel they learned the much-needed life skill of negotiating from it, in all its forms – trading, making deals, pacts, and arrangements. When I discovered that the older one had hit the younger one in his chest (where he had had open-heart surgery 3 years before), I stepped in forcibly. I laid down the law, because when bullying begins to escalate into violence, you are only one step away from serious consequences. I admit I had immense power over my sons. Money was important to them. I gave them a generous allowance each week and when I fined them for misbehavior it was not for a dime or a quarter. It was for half or ALL of their $5. Physical abuse was a one-month suspension of allowance and a weekly discussion about alternatives – like using your words, bargaining, cooling off, talking to Dad, etc.

REMEMBER: You cannot STOP anyone…all you can do is divert their energy into another direction.

sibling rivalry brothers

Other approaches

Suggestions from Barbara Coloroso in Kids are Worth It:

  • Use cool-off times
    First, help the children calm down, then address the situation by giving each child an opportunity to express his side of the story.
  • “The Plan”
    • Enter the room where your children are fighting slowly and quietly.
    • Stand without saying a word.
    • Take action, modeling calm and patience. For example, turning off the television or separating kids who are fighting.
    • Describe what you see.  For example, “I see two children who both want the remote control.” 
    • Explain the need for a “plan” – help them engage in a conflict resolution process.
  • “Notepad, pencil, one story” technique
    Have children work together to come up with one story they can both live with – this process helps them to see the other person’s perspective.
  • The “sit and permission to get up” approach
    They can both get up as soon as they give each other permission to get up. An apology is not the key here (don’t demand that they apologize); cooperation is key.  Both children have power over the other one; they are interdependent.  This helps them to calm down and then they can work on resolving the problem.
  • “You hit – you sit” approach
    Children need to learn that hitting is not an appropriate way to handle conflict.

We do not hit in our family under any circumstances.  Use your words to tell Sean how angry you are.”

To a young child, you can add, “You can calm down in your room, in the rocker, or on my lap.”

For older children, offer a choice between sitting and walking.  “You can sit or take a walk until you are calm enough to go back and handle the situation with words, not with hitting.”

sibling rivalry

Quick Tips…


  • When kids are fighting over something, remove the object. Then sit and talk about it…and have THEM decide what is fair to each of them.
  • Teach problem-solving and gaining power over circumstances through good decision-making. Those are two indispensable life-skills.
  • As kids get older, remember to offer them privileges as well as responsibilities.
  • Compensation as a consequence. (Also called restitution): Kids must replace something they shouldn’t have taken, or that they destroyed. Logical consequences teach a bunch of good lessons.
  • Make lying and tattling unrewarding.
  • Remind them frequently that “home and family” are precious and are to be safe and happy places to be, and that is everyone’s goal.
  • It’s okay not to like someone sometimes, but that has nothing to do with respect.
  • Never punish kids for telling the truth. Think on it, if a kid has seen they will be punished for confessing, why EVER tell the truth? Any kid worth his smarts picks up on that after only ONE incident. What do they learn from being punished after confessing? “Take your chances with lying! You just might avoid punishment if you lie good enough, or blame someone else.”
  • The six-word rule is Mess up? Fess up. Move on.
  • When you make a mistake, do the same. Nothing like seeing Mom or Dad humbly say, “Wow, I really blew that one! Next time I am going to remember to do that differently.”


I said I did not have all the answers but hope this gives you some good ideas to try, adopt, or spawn some of your own.


Let me know if you have suggestions on sibling rivalry! Anthony@DrD-J.com


Are you not on the Doctor Zest Mailing List YET? <+++++Just fill in the contact form here!

Share this post with your friends

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
For further assistance